Eclipso isn’t your traditional comic-book villain, especially when it comes to TV show villains. He’s uglier, more powerful, and more insidious than most of them, and we’re left wondering over and over again what’s real as he pulls strings in Blue Valley, Nebraska. Spoilers follow for Stargirl Season 2, Episode 8, “Summer School: Chapter Eight.”
“Summer School: Chapter Eight”
The first set of photos of Eclipso looked pretty silly if I’m being totally honest. They called to mind Ivan Ooze from Power Rangers more than “the physical incarnation of negative emotion itself.” And yet, such a weird pull was exciting to think about. How do you pit a bunch of teenagers against a god and make it interesting? So far, the writers and directors of Stargirl have found impressive success.
Having successfully messed up Yolanda so thoroughly that she’s retired from life as Wildcat, Eclipso turns his gaze to Rick and Beth, exploiting different aspects of each of their personalities.
Rick’s character flaws aren’t that different from Yolanda’s, in some ways. He’s the classic loner with a heart of gold, a guy who has been dealt a crappy hand in life–dead parents, deadbeat adoptive father, a record of trouble at school. The JSA has been a revelatory experience for him, a way to open up and start to believe that he has friends and that life is worth giving a crap about. They both feel like they’ve been pushed outside of what they see as the normal social order around them, and Eclipso uses that against them.
For Rick, it begins with his burgeoning relationship with Solomon Grundy. While often depicted as a villain, he’s something closer to an animal in this incarnation, and after their climactic battle in season 1, Rick realized that he was basically beating up a dog that had been trained and primed to attack and had no control over its actions. This season, he’s been bringing the apparently gentle giant food by the bucket.
That relationship comes to a head this week, though. The teacher that had accused Rick of cheating a few weeks ago shows up at his house to apologize for her previous behavior, and brings along papers for applying for college scholarships–and it’s clear Rick doesn’t know what to do with the feelings that come up along with that. His adoptive father, though, interrupts it, throwing the papers into the wind and telling Rick he’ll just screw it up like everything else.
That sends Rick out to the woods where Grundy dwells. Rick shows up with a literal bushel of apples and, knowing he’s safe from prying eyes, screams out his frustration. Grundy shows up–the show’s visual FX are still solid this season, by the way–and they sit together. Grundy pats him on the back and offers him one of the apples.
When Rick leaves, though, he runs into some hunters; there’s a bear in the woods, apparently worrying local residents, which sends Rick into a panic.
Beth, meanwhile, continues to struggle with figuring out what’s going on with her Dr. Mid-Nite goggles and the intermittent connection with their inventor, Charles McNider, when her parents show up with sandwiches and overly-warm looks on their faces, and you know it’s time to discuss the divorce that Beth knows is in process. Her parents tell her it’s her fault they’re divorcing, maggots start to crawl out of her sandwich, and we have to start calling everything we’ve seen into question.
Things go quickly off the rails for Beth as we cut to her entering Courtney’s empty house, which is still sporting long-since cleaned-up signs of battle in their home. Bruce, the child form Eclipso takes, appears before her, telling her that she’s a thief just like “all you people.” He leads her on a dream-logic chance through Courtney’s house, the JSA headquarters, and more, saying things like “I thought all you people were athletic,” and telling her that she’s not the right age, gender, or race to be a superhero–which Beth doesn’t hesitate to call racist.
Rick is going through the same thing–he runs into a pair of injured and terrified hunters, and then discovers the body of a young girl supposedly killed by Grundy. When Courtney and Pat find the body, it disappears with a pop right in front of them, a weirdly Lynchian sort of visual effect that comes across as shocking in the moment. It’s sort of a cheap effect, but it makes the moment feel otherworldly and upsetting.
Breaking the Spell
The two characters escape the illusions in very different ways. For Rick, it’s devastating. Courtney and Pat find him beating the snot out of Grundy, but after Courtney sends Rick flying with a blast from the staff, Rick realizes that he was beating up his adoptive father. His response is even more intense than Yolanda’s. Where she gave up the Wildcat armor, Rick crushes the hourglass altogether, ensuring that neither he nor anyone else can use it again.
Beth, meanwhile, finds herself face to face with Eclipso. He’s right that she’s not athletic like Courtney, Yolanda, or Rick, but when he tells her to give into her fear, she’s smart and used to the kind of pressure and manipulation Eclipso is applying. She realizes that this is exactly what Eclipso wants. It becomes an empowering moment for her–she declares herself “the new Dr. Mid-Nite,” causing the goggles’ database to formally update. It’s not quite transformative–real life doesn’t work like that and Beth still has stuff to work on, but it’s still a huge moment for a character that’s struggled to find a place both as a superhero and even just in her own home and world.
Stargirl has done an awesome job of making Eclipso a creepy villain in a way that we don’t usually see on these shows. He makes not just the characters but we as viewers doubt what we’re seeing and hearing as we watch the show. Is Brainwave living in Yolanda’s mind? Is Grundy really a cold, mindless killer? These moves are plausible things that play on both the characters’ flaws and doubts and on our expectations as viewers. They deepen the characters, making them easier to relate to, and make Eclipso, with his truly silly name, more and more unsettling.
Courtney serves mostly as an outside viewer in this episode and the last, unable to help her friends because the battles they’re fighting are in their minds and senses. You can’t blast ideas with a laser. Now, the show has to land all of this setup.
Beth found a new confidence. Rick’s powers are, in theory, gone and unrecoverable. Yolanda has given up on Wildcat and cut Courtney out of her life. Meanwhile, the real Starman (Joel McHale, who appears briefly in this episode as one of Beth’s hallucinations) is out there, as is Jade, the new Green Lantern. The Shade is out there somewhere, still alive, as is Charles McNider.
At this point, I think I’m invested in all of these storylines, and I really hope they can do interesting things with them.